Thursday, February 16, 2023

Professor Elizabeth Rata et al: Open Letter to the PM

Corresponding Signatory
Professor Elizabeth Rata

The Rt Hon Chris Hipkins
Parliament Office
Freepost 18 888
Parliament Buildings
Wellington 6160

cc. Hon Jan Tinetti

8 February 2023

Dear Prime Minister Hipkins,

We, the undersigned, draw your attention to two major problems in the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Refresh policy and in the associated NCEA qualification reforms. These problems were created during your tenure as Minister of Education and can only be solved by calling an immediate halt to the radical initiatives causing the problems. Because the matter is of such urgency, this letter is an open one and will be made public.

The first problem is the fundamental change to the purpose of New Zealand education contained in the Curriculum Refresh document, Te Mātaiaho: The Refreshed New Zealand Curriculum: Draft for Testing, September 2022.

The second problem is an effect of the first. It is the insertion into the curriculum of traditional knowledge, or mātauranga Māori, as equivalent to science.

Problem 1: Changing the purpose of New Zealand education
Since the 1877 Education Act, the purpose of education has been to build our nation upon the accumulated knowledge of humanity. The intended benefits of this universal education system are numerous. Six generations of New Zealanders are educated; a robust economy is developed; stable democracy is secured through secular institutions – all enabling the social cohesion of a multi-ethnic population with different backgrounds but united in its commitment to our nation.

The Curriculum Refresh has abandoned this goal of unity. Instead, the democratic idea of the universal human being upon which the education system was founded is replaced with a localised system that classifies children into racialised groups with, as the Curriculum Refresh states, ‘diverse ways of being, understanding, knowing, and doing’. (Our emphasis).

The ‘Kaupapa Statement’ that guided the Curriculum Refresh development makes this revolutionary new purpose perfectly clear:

We are refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum (the NZC) to better reflect the aspirations and expectations of all New Zealanders. The refresh will adorn our ākonga with a 3-strand whenu (cord). This korowai will be layered with huruhuru (feathers) representing who they are, who they can be, their whakapapa, and their connection to our whenua (lands). The whenu tying it together is made up of whānau (family), ākonga, and kaiako (teachers) working as partners to use and localise the NZC. The refresh will ensure that the NZC reflects diverse ways of being, understanding, knowing, and doing. It helps us inclusively respond to the needs of individual ākonga, who are at the centre of all we do. Ākonga will be able to see their languages, cultures, identities, and strengths in what they learn at school. This will empower ākonga to go boldly into an ever-changing future and contribute to local, national, and global communities. This vision will primarily be realised by kaiako and school leaders, in partnership with iwi and their school communities. However, it will be important for all New Zealanders to be part of this journey and help create multiple pathways towards equity and success for all ākonga. (Our emphasis.)

A racialised curriculum
After classifying children racially, the Curriculum Refresh embeds this identity categorisation. We are to be recognised in the education system as either Māori or not. Yet the reality is that modern individuals choose which identity matters to them, a choice informed by personalities, capacities, interests, goals, family, communities and heritages, and likely to change during the lifespan as circumstances change. At school we share the identity of pupil and student.

In contrast, the culturalist ideology now informing education policy places our identity as an ethnic one, a view that risks perpetuating fixed racial stereotypes. More seriously, it links culture to race, a link justified by the belief that how individuals think, behave, and relate to others is pre-determined by their genetic ancestry.

This race-culture link is seen in the Kaupapa Statement that ‘Ākonga will be able to see their languages, cultures, identities, and strengths in what they learn at school’. It is a pre-modern race ideology that will destroy our modern future-oriented education system and should be seen for the revolution it is.

Problem 2: The effects of radical change
The second problem to which we draw your urgent attention is the effects of this radical transformation of New Zealand education. They include ‘culturally responsive pedagogies’ – the idea that diverse way of ‘being, knowing, understanding and doing’ require different learning approaches. An example of this is the misguided belief that Māori- and Pacific-heritage children learn better in groups. Literacy too is under attack by those seeking to ‘decolonise’ reading and writing – see

The knowledge equivalence error
We draw your attention specifically to the effect on the curriculum caused by the false claim that traditional knowledge and modern science are equivalent (mana orite). This is damaging, not only to science education within New Zealand but to our nation’s international reputation.

The damage occurs in two ways. First, the interweaving of mātauranga Māori across the science curriculum forces a comparison between the two knowledge systems in ways that do justice to neither. Traditional knowledge has its own value and purpose and belongs in curriculum subjects such as social studies, geography, and literature. But it is not science and does not belong in the science curriculum.

Second, the NCEA Reform and Curriculum Refresh bring pseudoscientific ideas into science due to the poor transposition of some concepts from mātauranga Māori. For example, the NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary introduces the idea of mauri as a relevant concept in biology and chemistry. It defines mauri as:

The vital essence, life force of everything: be it a physical object, living thing or ecosystem. In Chemistry and Biology, mauri refers to the health and life-sustaining capacity of the taiao, on biological, physical, and chemical levels.

Vitalism, the idea of an innate ‘life force’ present in all things, has surfaced in many cultural knowledge systems, including European, but has been soundly refuted and is not part of modern science. Inserting mātauranga Māori into the science curriculum will, not only lead to confusion in our schools and for our students, but will destroy our nation’s reputation for quality science.

A scholarly account of the difference between mātauranga Māori and modern science which compares the properties of each knowledge type, their differences, their relationship, methods and procedures for their development, and policy implications is available on pages 13-21 in

Please halt the Curriculum Refresh
Asserting that the Treaty of Waitangi is ‘a fundamental component of our constitution’, Te Mātaiaho: the Curriculum Refresh’s radical goal is to ‘foster the next generation of Te Tiriti partners by moving beyond the rhetorical notion of “honouring” Te Tiriti to giving effect to it’ (p. 5).

But the status of the Treaty is subject to unresolved political contest. It is undemocratic to engineer a revolutionary constitutional change through the educational curriculum. We ask for the restoration of an academic curriculum and qualification system based on the democratic principles of universalism and secularism; a system that enabled generations of New Zealanders to acquire the universal knowledge of humanity. It was the reason for the nation’s successful education system that has lasted nearly one hundred and fifty years. The transformative Curriculum Refresh will undo the principles and practices that made such success possible with dire consequences for New Zealand’s future.

Prime Minister Hipkins, the Curriculum Refresh and the NCEA Reforms were developed on your watch as Minister of Education. It is, therefore, incumbent on you to repeal them before irrevocable damage is done to our country. As Prime Minister, you are certainly in a position to do so.


Professor Elizabeth Rata
Director of the Knowledge in Education Research Unit
Faculty of Education and Social Work
University of Auckland

Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger
Director of the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics
Massey University Auckland

Dr Raymond Richards
Research Associate (retired Senior Lecturer in History)
University of Waikato

Dr David Lillis
Retired Senior Academic Manager and Senior Lecturer in Statistics and Research Methods

Professor Elizabeth Rata is the Director of the Knowledge in Education Research Unit in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. This article first published HERE


Robert Arthur said...

What are the chances of seeing/hearing this in the msm? Perhaps Kim hill could interview Margaret Rata. With RNZ/TVNZ merger shelved Kim need worry somewhat less about being ardently pro maori for her future, and a faintly objective interview may result.

Anonymous said...

The reply will be interesting - this initiative was prepared under Mr Hipkins' term as Education minister.

Anonymous said...

The state of our education system is the main reason I'm planning on leaving this country and having my child educated elsewhere. The whole ministry has been captured by racist idealogues pushing this absolutely racist agenda. An absolute disgrace.

EP said...

Well said. Thank you.

Ellis Nimick said...

Descarates tortured his own wife's dog in order to put forward that nature was merely a mechanical construct, which humans could "conquer and subdue", and be "bound into service", in order to advance dualist, "enlightenment" ideaology over the animism we see in so many cultures.

The emergence of this dualism enabled the enclosure of land all across Europe (as land was diminished to property) and colonialism elsewhere. It enabled the exploitation of species (as objects for profit) and ecosystems (as resources for profit). Need I mention the exploitation of people. All of nature's agency was removed, and any ethical restraints disregarded for the sake of possession and extraction.

As an environmental scientist, I fail to grasp why re-introducing young minds to ideas of reciprocity, kinship and respect with the living world is any less appropriate that introducing dualism was in the first place (especially in places were it was done by force...). Perhaps many of the issues we deal with today, such as the disconnection people feel to nature and the whenua; our biodiversity crisis; our poisoned wetlands and rivers; the climate crisis, might be much less severe (or entirely absent) if we hadn't allowed dualism to manifest so insidiously for the sake resource exploitation.

To say that a river is actually void of a connection with the "health and life-sustaining capacity of taiao, on a biological, physical or chemical level" is actually what has been soundly refuted by science. If you have to use a synonym other that "life force", or "mauri", then please do (quarks, whatever). But don't deny everyone else's opportunity to perceive the world in a way that emphasises reciprocity just because you've embraced another perception.

Love from,
A young New Zealand Environmental scientist,

Gaynor Chapman said...

Thank you Elizabeth for your timely and well composed petition.
Having been intimately involved in the reading wars for 50 years, defending traditional intensive phonics aka structured literacy against the whole language (WL) reading method I was very interested in reading 'Literacy is not a Maori Thing' you referenced.
My mother became a household name in 1997 with the nationwide TV screening of 'The Reading Wars' a 20/20 documentary featuring the shocking persecution of Doris's students attending her private remedial reading room , they received from WL adherents, at local schools.
With something akin to religious fervour Reading Recovery(RR) an adjunct to WL and the brainchild of Dame Marie Clay, was foisted on NZ 1980 and spread throughout the world by aggressive advertising ,sponsored by the NZ government.
It is not just Maori mythology and tradition ,apparently that can masquerade as real science but wonky western ideas as well, which are derived from weak evolutionary ideas ,about child development now dis proven. The outstanding myth was that reading and writing are as natural as learning to speak.
Dame Clay became a sacred cow and exalted to dizzy heights by the Royal Societies of NZ and Australia and elsewhere. It has taken more than 40 years of research by rigorous educational ,cognitive and neural scientists to expose the false tenants of WL and RR. Meanwhile untold millions of children world wide have had their educational aspirations trashed by these reading methods particularly vulnerable and low socioeconomic children.
But WL will neither admit failure nor go away still being the dominant reading method in NZ disguised as balanced literacy. Like a truculent ,wilful child it is now playing sour grapes with 'Reading is not a Maori Thing '

Doug Longmire said...

It is actually more sinister than that. As reported by Muriel Newman back in 2017:-

"In fact, the agenda of those pushing the Maori language is far more sinister than many realise.

Marama Fox, the former co-leader of the Maori Party, which used to represent the tribal elite in Parliament, outlined their plan for the Maori language in an interview in the Listener before the election. It involved replacing our Westminster model of Parliamentary democracy in New Zealand with a “unique form of governance that would favour Maori customs, principles and values.”

She explained it was all ‘plotted out’: “It would take 36 years – 12 election cycles – for a Maori sovereignty party to share government… it’s a radical vision… but if we believe in it, then we need to march towards it.”

She explained that the “critical step” in shifting the thinking of New Zealanders to make it all possible was “to make the Maori language a core subject in the country’s schools”.

Marama Fox argued that “people look at things differently once they’ve acquired te reo. It’s a world view. The Maori world view is different and that’s expressed in the language. The language unlocks our history and our thinking.”

Mudbayripper said...

Thank you Professor Rata and the other signatories. The risk of scorn from pointing out common sense realities has been experienced in the past. The new refresh is so obviously ideology driven.
Logic reality may well fall on deaf ears.
This Minister has been in control for 5 years and is fully aware.
But your efforts are well appreciated, many are aware of how hugely damaging this is for all New Zealanders.

Kiwialan said...

As I have commented previously, our lovely hard working South African neighbours have just relocated to Australia so their son can have a decent education, not waste most of his day learning a stone age language, practising kapa haka and a false history being forced on him. When are the people of New Zealand going to lose their fear of cancellation and say enough is enough of this cultural bullshit? Kiwialan.

Robert Arthur said...

Correction of above. She is of course Elizabeth Rata, not Margaret. Mention always invkes thoughts of her exact opposite, Margaret Motu.

Doug Longmire said...

Kiwilan - your neighbours will just be the start of the evacuation of New Zealand if this racist apartheid comes into being, here, in our once unified and free nation.

Ken Allan said...

There is nothing new or sudden about these changes we discuss here. It has been a slow, low rumble that is gaining in volume as we watch each school year progress. The real tragedy is the effect it will have on the children educated within such a dysfunctional system. Those who may have some educational success as they graduate from the system will find an alien world exists outside New Zealand and this will be the experience of Māori and non-Māori alike. It's very sad that this administering of a morphed version of Te Tiriti is being foisted on young minds when we don't even have a universal spell- checker for written Te Reo in New Zealand.

Don said...

Normally when Maori words replace English I cease reading but I soldiered on through the "Kaupapa Statement" in a growing sense of disbelief, sorrow and fear that our once advanced Education Department seems to have been hi-jacked by those advocating spiritualism and racism. Ellis reveals a thinly disguised pantheism viewpoint firmly belonging to a fairy-tale world and a form of reasoning never relevant to reality. Having clocked up 50 years high school teaching service myself I put my faith in the common sense of most teenagers who are mostly capable of recognising indoctrination and shrugging it off.
Teachers try to teach students HOW to think not WHAT to think.